Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I've Moved!

Hi Everyone! For the New Year, I have a New BLOG! Its beautiful, redesigned, but full of the same content. History, chemistry and culture still come together in a tasty mix of words and flavors. I'll be posting on this page from now on, so if you would like to update the RSS feed that would be a wonderful holiday present for me! Thank you all for reading, can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

Check it out!

http://www.elliebarczak.com/


Happy Holidays!

Peace, Love and Good Eating!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pomegranates

An exceedingly handsome waiter leans over to take your order. “ Yes,” you say, “hi [blush] I’ll take a Pom-tini and the pomegranate arugula salad with goat cheese to start.” He nods, you swoon and can’t wait to tell him you intend to order-- sirloin with pomegranate balsamic reduction and pomegranate gelato for dessert.

Yep. Perfectly Yum. Is it the hunky wait staff at this swank joint, or the sexy pomegranate that has you reeling? Well, except for the occasional aphrodisiac I deal in dining, not dating, so lets talk about the pomegranate.

First off, where does it come from? This fruit hails from the ancient Middle East, native to arid climates like Iran, India and Turkey. Both a religious and cultural symbol, the pomegranate has a long list of main-stage appearances. Rumor has it that this is the true forbidden fruit, Eve took one look at the beautiful gems hidden inside the rind and couldn’t resist. In the Jewish religion it is a symbol of righteousness because its 613 seeds (not an accurate measure, its more like 800) correspond directly to the 613 mitzvot or commandments.

The pom also figures into the Greek myth of the seasons: Hades was in need of some loving so he kidnapped Persephone and tricked her into eating 6 pomegranate seeds binding her forever t the underworld for half the year. Her mother, Demeter goddess of the harvest was so sad during that lonely time, plants withdrew and died, and thus, winter was born.

But back to the waiter, though I made him up, pomegranate is now a mainstay in dining Mecca’s all over the US. But why didn’t we hear about this bad girl fruit earlier?

The pomegranate madness started in 2002 when POM Wonderful Company first hit the juice market. The company funded millions of dollars in medical studies to explore the fruit health benefits, and lo and behold, a star was born. Credited with the highest antioxidant count in any juice, pomegranate also protects the heart by fighting fight bad cholesterol, delivers a wallop of vitamin C and slows the advance of prostate cancer.

This week, I’m going to eat as much pomegranate as I can get my hands on. It started last night with a simply salad, let the fruit speak for itself. I did however learn the correct way to extract the arils (seeds) from the white flesh inside the rind.

First, cut the crown of the pomegranate, then cutting just through the rind divide into four sections. Now, in a large bowl of cold water, break up the quarters and proceed to gently role the arils away from the white lacy bits. That membrane will float and the seeds sink so straining is easy! This is also the surest way NOT to get stained….a perennial problem for me. video

Originally this salad calls for Prosciutto, a decadent leisure that I can neither afford, nor feed to my vegetarian friend. To substitute for its salty bite, I shaved a little Reggiano over the top.

1. Shave a bit of ParmigianoReggiano, extract those arils and chop some chives. Now push all that to the side of the cutting board for later.
2. Combine 1 tablespoon olive oil with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and set a side in a bowl with slivered garlic.
3. Thinly slice a small fennel bulb and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil and set aside.
4. Toss 1 bunch arugula with dressing and distribute to plates. Top with fennel, chives, pomegranate seeds and cheese. One good grind of black pepper and your good to go.
5. (if you’ve got it, lay the Prosciutto on top. Sigh…. don’t I wish)

This has been trial #1. This weekend I intend to introduce my pomegranate to some lamb!

A Tally of Pomegranate-Related Items I have eaten this week
1 pomegranate Sucker from Yummy Earth Organics

1 Container of Rachel’s Pomegranate Blueberry yogurt.
1 bowl of left over bowl of juicy pom jewels as a snack.


Sources: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Pomegranate#cite_note-24
http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/beverages/juices/pomegranate-juice.asp#arils
Mayo Clinic Online

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Food of The week: Parsnips

All of a sudden the winds changed a little bit, air got crisper and I put on some bigger socks. It’s time for bundle up for fall. But, there is a silver lining, it's also time for autumn veggies.

This week, it’s carrots ugly albino cousin, the Parsnip. But hey! Don’t be a veggist (one who is discriminatory against certain vegetables just because of the color of their peel) the parsnip holds a sweet, nutty, sitting-by-the-fireside kind of flavor.

History
The ‘snip is a cold weather vegetable. It actually requires some freezing temperatures to convert its starchy compounds into sugar. Before the Idaho potato dominated the American scene this little guy kept the colonists and their cattle well fed all winter long. And their health might have been better for it. (not that the spud isn’t great because it IS!)

Health
In one serving of parsnips you’ll get almost 7 grams of fiber, half your daily potassium and a healthy dose of vitamin C. We all know what fiber and Vitamin C contribute to a healthy body, but let me remind you about the third nutrient. Potassium keeps your muscles and nerves functioning properly and helps you store carbohydrates as fuel. Perfect! When you eat a parsnip, not only does the fibrous tuber give you carbs (the healthy kind) but potassium helps hang on to the power.

Cooking
Now, I understand this is not a vegetable people are familiar with. So, let me break it down for you. Luckily, everything you do with a parsnip is easy. First, wash and peel the waxy skin. Then try cutting it into French fry shapes (avoiding the core) and roasting them in the oven with a little butter or olive oil (roast means setting your oven at 475 for about 20 minutes.) Salt, pepper and you’re good to go. Try cooking them like mashed potatoes, sautéing with carrots and rosemary or popping them in a soup. The sweetness of the ‘snip goes really well with a strongly flavored meat like sausage or seasoned pork loin.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fall at the Evanston Farmers Market II

The much awaited part two....
I gained a new appreciation for architectural beauty at the Farmers Market last Saturday. I love the idea of food as art and this was like seeing a Gaudi building. At the far side of the market, a man with large hands, well seasoned with fresh earth, cut piece off an enormous ruffly mushroom. Called Hen of the Woods, or Maitake in Japanese, this is a great fungi. Maitake means "dancing mushroom" and that's just what it looks like, a lady's skirt flying across the floor. Or, I suppose, maybe it means you'll dance when you find it!


I can't wait to use this mushroom. Though the fall season isn't nearly long enough fully expound on this guy, it fresh-freezes very well. It's also great for you. Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital has conducted some serious research with this fungi, and found some serious results. Anti-cancer and anti-diabetic elements are only the beginning. It's also great for immune system support, hypertension relief and high cholesterol reduction. But the Chinese said it best, the Maitake balances the systems of your bodies. I like that. How can you not??

References: Sloan Kettering, americanmushrooms.com, and admittedly a little wikipedia.

Fall at the Evanston Farmers Market I

YES! The Farmers market is wonderful in the fall. It's the time of the apple, the pumpkin and the squash. This Saturday, I made two discoveries I want to share. This is the first.

My new favorite apple is called the Mutsu. To unseat the HoneyCrisp as my number one is not an easy task. I'm a Minnesotan, and I harbor fierce loyalty for the Honey, and I don't renege on my commitments. But, that said, I'm having an apple affair.

The Mutsu looks like a granny smith, but the skin is not that horrible industrial green, its hue is soft and spring like, like new moss in April. The taste is tart like a Granny, but instead of biting into your tongue, it is smooth and cooling and refreshing. A little lemon, a little chamomile.

The Mutsu hails from Japan, but was renamed Crispin in the 1960, to make it more appealing to Americans. It is also related to the Golden Delicious, but its firm, and super crispy flesh makes it great for cooking, although I think I might eat all the slices!

Stay posted for discovery number two....it might make you a healthier person, no, I'm sure it will.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sunday Salmon


This maybe the best easy-salmon I've ever made. I'm back at school, so no kitchen of my own per sem but I simply tote my traveling kitchen around and make myself useful. Last weekend, was a collegiate triumph. Its lovely to cook for my friends, they are appreciative and generally easier to please than my picky, over-analyzing self. I'm picky and I always think about what I could have done better.

This salmon though, doesn't need second guessing. A Dijon mustard glaze keeps the fish moist and potato chips get an upgrade from collegiate snack to gourmet ingredient.

But first, a little background on my favorite condiment: Dijon Mustard.

A true Dijon mustard must adhere to very specific qualifications. It's a French national treasure, and this 150 year old recipe is worth guarding. It's a concoction of brown mustard seeds, white wine, salt and some spices to heat things up. And its great for you. Mustard can be used medicinally to stimulate digestion, increase circulation, and clear the sinuses. Also, its a rubefacient, drawing blood to the surface of the sink. Warming, soothing, and muscle relaxing. Think that oatmeal is the only thing you'd every put in a bat tub you cure an ill? Well, try a mustard foot bath....I wish I had a tub in college.

But back to the salmon, here's how it goes.

Ingredients:

Salmon fillet
2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons dried dill or 4 tablespoons fresh
1 - 1.5 cups crush potato chips

All the measurements are subject to the size of the salmon. First, place the salmon on a rimmed baking sheet line with foil and season olive oil, salt and pepper (not too much salt, remember the chips!). Pop it under the broiler for about 9-11 minutes depending on the thickness. Meanwhile, mix the crunched potato chips with the dill and set aside. When salmon is almost cooked, take it out of the oven and paint it with the mustard. Then press the chip mixture into the mustard and broil for another minute or two until cooked through. Then, eat and enjoy. Maybe a side of orzo red onions? I think yes!

If you're interested, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, wrote an article on the rise of Grey Poupon to dominate the market. Check it out.

Sources: http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/egg/egg0796/musthlth.html
www.cooksillustrated.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Tomato Summer

Strawberries are gone, blueberries past their prime and I can’t find a fresh local raspberry to save my life. So, in late late summer (ok maybe early fall) I’ve turned my love of jam to the tomato.

Mark Bittman, of the NY Times blog Bitten, featured a tomato jam this august. It was the mention of Barcelona which truly caught my eye (I’ll spend almost 7 months there early next year). I'm all about foods used out of their normal element, and I was quite tired of caprese salad. The jam delivered true tomato taste that and enhanced by the spices.

However, I have to disagree with Mr. Bittman that this is a good morning treat, I much prefer it in the afternoon with a piece of good sharp white cheddar and fresh crusty bread. Because of my affinity for the salty rather than the sweet, I reduced the 1 cup sugar in the recipe to less than 1/3 cup. The jam didn't suffer, in fact, the tomato's sweetness was nearly enough to balance the lime's acidity and jalapeno's heat. I also increased the amount of cayenne and added some seeds from the jalapeno to kick it to the next level. I think the two types of peppers give this recipe dimension and identity.

Side note about the type of tomato: you want something that will hold up alright late in the cooking process. Avoid mushiness and look for firm-ripe. Romas or plums are actually wonderful in this, but only if you can get the locally grown kind or the really thing from San Marzano.

This is my version of Late Summer Tomato Jam

1 1/2 lbs tantalizingly ripe tomatoes
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar depending on your taste buds
2 1/2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger...oooh what a smell
3/4 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
1 jalapeno seeded and finely chopped
1/2-3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Put all ingredients in a mediums sauce pan and stir to mix. Heat over a medium flame until boiling, stirring frequently.
2. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the tomatoes have deconstructed and yielded to a mushy goodness, about 75 min. Taste, season, cool and enjoy.

Other suggestions: its great with pork loin (as almost any fruit or chutney is). Try it with a side of scallion studded couscous. Killer, and great for your health too!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rustic Italian Bread

Well, bakery style bread out of my kitchen. Who'd have thought? Not me, but look at this! Ooo, I'm quite proud of this one.

Again, I used Cooks Illustrated and benefited from a kitchen full of wild yeast zipping around the room. The more you bake the better it goes. This one is so easy, I could make a loaf everyday. The starter sits overnight (or at least 8 hours) and the next day, you make the dough, allow it to rise for a bit, then pour the gooey substance into a bowl. Instead of kneading, you "turn" the it, pulling one side onto the other. This process happens twice, resting 1 hour and "power rising" in between. When the dough has risen to its full potential in the bowl, you form the dough into a rectangle and fold it up, sealing in all the air pockets, like this:

video

My supple and smooth dough turned into magnificent bread. I ended up making two loaves and discovering in the process that my oven is an appalling 50 degrees slow. Depressing, and I now have to cook with an oven thermometer hanging from the rack. Despite the climate difficulties both breads yielded moist interiors and deep "bready" flavors. The crust was the best part. It was exceptional with good olive oil and cracked pepper.

A little science for you: Dried yeast is simply the fresh yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) dehydrated. This applies to both active dry yeast and Instant (aka rapid-rise, quickrise and bread machine) yeast. When the yeast is dried, the dead cells form a protective layer around the living cells that activate to make the bread rise. There are fewer dead cells in rapid rise and, unlike active dry, it can be added directly to the bread without rehydration. Cool huh? I discovered this on Susan's blog, Wild Yeast. I love it! So informative, well photographed and simply delicious. Thanks Susan!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Baguettes for President

On Wednesday night, instead of watching more news, more speeches (though I'll admit, I had them on the radio, a good political scientist must hear all sides) I was flinging baguette dough onto my counter top. Actually, the technique has name, "crashing" and coupled with kneading, this act of carbohydrate violence really develops those gluten threads!

My third round of baguettes blew the other out of the water. This time, I drew from my much trusted Cooks Illustrated Best Recipes book. Their exhaustive testing taught me a few cool things. First, in France bread proportions are measured in a system called the Baker's Percentage based on the weight of the flour. "A correct baguette dough, for instance has a hydration of 62%. This means for every 1 pound flour, there will be .62 pounds water." Second, using instant yeast is very satisfying. Third, setting the dough in the fridge overnight creates a creamy texture, and perfectly golden crust,which snaps and crackles as you take it out of the oven. The long rise slows the fermentation process and deepens the bread's flavor. Man I'm a food nerd.

This is the recipe I used.
I encourage you to buy the book, subscribe to the site, whatever medium you find most pleasing, but use this source, its amazing.

Now, on to the baked loaves. The interior was much lighter and fluffier than the first bread, the crust a prettier color, and the boasted a longer staying power. The bread was still good on day three. The pre-ferment of the sponge really enhances both flavor and texture. The first time I checked the sponge it looked like this:


The sponge is ready when the edges are higher
than the center, which has "fallen", like this:

So satisfying to see results right away. I underestimated the rise time and at almost 1 am I was wrapping the newly formed loaves for their slumber in the fridge. Thursday morning, the dough had slept more than me, and it preformed like a champ. I've never been so proud of bread as these to lovely loaves. Success, Success!! I don't know what the next project is, but I'm thinking Rustic Italian.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Barczak Boulangerie

In France, by traditional law a baguette can have only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. But I beg to differ, in fact I think ever neighborhood boulangerie (bakery) added a little bit of sweat and a lot of heart. Corny, yes but oh so true.

baguette1.jpg (JPEG Image, 300x100 pixels)
courtesy of
madeincantal.com

Baking any bread is a labor of love. For the amateur baker, yeast can be intimidating; it's actually alive and at times uncooperative. Bread rises because as the yeast feeds on the sugars in the flour it creates a gas. This gas gets captured in the flour's gooey gluten web and forces the bread upwards, not unlike a hot air balloon. For me, the prospect of attempting the archetypal cheese and wine French bread is daunting. (Though the shape actually originated in Vienna!)

Attempts 1 and 2: I love Amy's Bread, a great book from a great bakery in New York. My first two loaves from batch one did not rise nearly enough. The flavor was good, but the density detracted from my overall experience. Also, I didn't have cake flour so I subbed all purpose. I tackled the rising problem first, allowing the second batch to sit outside. The Minnesota summer temperature turned out to be ideal. This change in climate and the cake flour created a holey inside and crunchy crust. The paraphrased recipe is below.

1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cups very warm water
3 cups all purpose flour (unbleached)
1 cup cake flour
2 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon cool water

Extra Tools: Baking Stone (pizza stone) Cookie sheet or baking peel, and water spray bottle.
  1. Combine yeast and warm water in small bowl and stir until yeast dissolves. Let it sit for 3 minutes.
  2. Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl. Then slowly pour the cool water and yeast mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with your fingers until the dough resembles a shaggy mass of gooey excellence.
  3. Pop the big flour mess on to a lightly floured work surface and kneed for 4 minutes. It will be "supple and resilient" but not smooth yet. Don't get flustered and over kneed. Over the little ball with a towel and let sit for 20 minutes. This is called the autolyse.
  4. Kneed dough for another 6 minutes until smooth and stretchy.
  5. Place your dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise in a warm temp 77 degrees (ish) for almost 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  6. Deflate the risen dough gently, and allow to rise again until doubled. (1.25 hours)
  7. Deflate again and let rise a third time for 1 hour.
  8. Now, this step is tricky so watch the video. Divide the dough in three pieces, then stretch into a rectangle, fold like a business letter, swivel letter 1/4 turn then fold again. video
  9. Now, elongate each "envelop" with both hands rolling from the center outward until baguette reaches desired length. Place finished loaves on baking peel or upside down cookie sheet covered in cornmeal. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let them sit for 40 minutes. Final rise is short because bread will poof up in the oven .
  10. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees 30 minutes before baking time. Place your baking stone in the oven and a shallow pan for water on the grate below.
  11. Ten minutes before baking, slash the breads 4 times diagonally cutting 1/4 inch deep. This helps the rising process. The cuts will pop open in the oven and become beautiful! This is called "scoring."
  12. With the help of the cornmeal, gently slide the loaves off the baking peel and onto the hot stone. As soon as you can pour a cup of very hot water into the pan and quickly close the door (careful, you might want to ask for another set of hands). This helps create steam and encourages the bread to rise.
  13. In two minutes, open the door and spray the oven walls with water (a plant sprayer will do).
  14. After 10 minutes at 500, reduce the temp to 425 and bake for 12 to 16 minutes. When they are golden brown and crisp they are done!
I am still not entirely satisfied. I'm going to try the Cooks Illustrated version, which takes much longer....overnight even. I'll report back. Bake to the boulangerie!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

10 Day Pickles are 10 times better

Just as I suspected, the longer the cucumbers hibernated in my fridge with their roommates garlic and dill, the better they got. It took no small feat of patience to wait the 10 days for the pickles to....pickle. Many (namely my Grandpa Lou) dismissed 10 days as "much to short for a real pickle." Well, I think he may be surprised. This recipe satisfied my desire for pickle-y-ness and kicked up the heat with hot red pepper.

Spicy Dill Pickles Bon Appétit | August 1993

Makes three 1 1/2-pint jars.

12 pickling cucumbers
2 cups water
1 ¾ cups distilled white vinegar
1 ½ cups packed coarsely chopped fresh dill
½ cup sugar
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon pickling spice
1 ½ teaspoons dill seeds
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Combine all ingredients except dill sprigs in large bowl. Stir, let stand at room temperature 2 hours until sugar and salt dissolve.

Transfer 4 cucumbers to each of three 1 1/2-pint wide-mouth jars. Pour pickling mixture over to cover. Place a few dill sprigs in each jar. Cover jars with lids and close tightly. Refrigerate at least 10 days. Pickles will stay fresh for up to 1 month. Keep refrigerated.


I tasted the first pickle on Monday and a few more today. They just keep getting better. Good flavor and great color. The garlic was wonderful. I upped the amount red pepper flakes-- a great call if I do say so myself. Alas, I haven't reached pickle Nirvana. They seemed a little too vinegary, and not perfectly crisp, however I suspect that the cucumbers had sat on my counter too long.

My genial critic, Grandpa Lou has promised to send me his mother's pickle recipe, so I may be at it again. But for now, I'll all pickled out. Good luck with this one, happy snacking!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pickles: Day 2

Is it really possible to get a great pickly flavor in a few short hours? Well, sort of.

I'll admit, I was anxious and looking for instant gratification, so when I stumbled upon a Cooks Illustrated recipe for Double Dill Pickles ready with in the day, I pounced. The recipe (as detailed in my previous entry) calls for gently simmering pre-salted cucumbers with a spice bag packed with fresh and dried dill, dill seeds, pepper corns and garlic, garlic, garlic! The three inch Kriby, or pickling cucumbers turn a dull olive brown when done, but are not unpleasant to look at. After tossing the whole lot in the fridge for several hours, I gave them a taste.

When I opened the refrigerator door, I knew something went well, it smelled like a picnic in there! The pickles had a good dill-garlic flavor, but it was not complex. It succeeded in delivering the concept yet failed to elaborate. Strangely enough, the aftertaste was distinctly sweet, though no sugar was used. This pickle eater likes it spicy, not sweet.

When it comes to picking, I suspect time is the magic ingredient and there is no such thing as immediate gratification with 100% satisfaction. Never fear, I've got a 10-day batch humming in the mason jars!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kitchen Experiments: Pickles Day 1

"How camest thou in this pickle?" Alonso asked Trinculo in Shakespeare's The Tempest, and centuries this blogger asked herself staring into a sink full of cucumbers. It all started with a request, a trip to the Minneapolis farmer market, and a dream (chuckle, chuckle).

As any good adventurer should, first I ga
thered information. The Pickling process was originally developed to preserve any number of foods from going bad and maintain a food supply during winter months or times of famine....that is, until its deliciousness was fully appreciated. The pickle has its roots in 2030 BC Mesopotamia when travelers brought cucumber seeds from India to the Tigris valley. Pickled food immediately took on an international flare. In China, construction workers ate fermented cabbage (not unlike German Sauerkraut) as they built the Great Wall around 200 BC, Vitamin C-rich pickles were fed to sailors to prevent scurvy during Columbus's quest for America in 1492 and now in 2008, I'm just learning how to make the tangy morsels. I feel so behind the times.

Pickling food works by lowering natural pH level, and increasing acidity to kill its bacteria and enzymes. The American Pickle is a product of a brine based or acid based fermentation process, but there are other ways to pickle a pickle including Lye-based, Dry-salt and sugar-based processes.

For my first batch, I wanted results quickly, so I opted for a recipe in which the cucumber are cooked with a bouquet garni filled with two types of dill , pepper corns and loads of garlic. I was skeptical of the cooking....would it produce mushy pickles? Can you really get great taste in a few hours? Check back to find out, better yet, cook a batch along with me!

INGREDIENTS

1 pound pickling (Kirby) cucumbers , each sliced lengthwise into 4 spears
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
6 cloves garlic , smashed
½ cup chopped fresh dill leaves plus 1 additional tablespoon
1 ½ cups distilled white vinegar
½ cup ice

1. Toss cucumbers with salt in colander set over bowl. Let stand 1 hour. Discard liquid.
2. Place peppercorns, dill weed, garlic, and 1/2 cup fresh dill in paper coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth and tie tightly with kitchen twine. Bring spice bag and vinegar to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low and add cucumbers. Cover and cook until cucumbers turn dull olive-brown, about 5 minutes. Discard spice bag.
3. Transfer cucumbers and liquid to glass bowl, add ice, and stir until melted. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon fresh dill. Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 1 hour before serving. (Pickles can be refrigerated in covered container for up to 2 weeks.)

Sources: http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/pickles/index.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A3100168
Cooks Illustrated http://www.cooksillustrated.com/


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bread Line: Simply Delicious

Finding a perfect sandwich is not easy, but when you do, it’s a little slice of heaven. This is my brunch sandwich at Bread Line on Pennsylvania Ave and 17th street last Friday; and it’s a thing of beauty.





Thinly sliced smoked salmon, dill caper cream cheese, red onion and water cress. The cream was spread so delicately on the bread that it did not weigh the sandwich down, just conveyed intense creamy-fresh flavor to my mouth (and protected the bread against potential sogginess, a common sandwich downfall.) I was impressed with the watercress, a innovative selection that gave the sandwich bright tasting crunch.

My dining partner, (and frequent guinea pig for my personal culinary endeavors) ordered southern pulled pork on a Kaiser roll, but it was messy and gobbled up before I could get a good picture!

I’ve also had a few salads from Bread Line, black lentils and feta as well as chicken curry. All salads are served on top of crispy mesclun and a roll on the side. The lentils were dynamite, but i have to stop ordering curry chicken, I hate mayo-i-ness!

Bread Line is 7:30 until 3:30 on weekdays and sadly closed on the weekends. Get in there whenever you can. There is nothing like the smell of fresh baking bread to signal a great sammie. Hey, free WiFi too!

Bread Line
http://thebreadlinedc.blogspot.com/
1751 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 20006

Takeout: 202.822.8900

Hours: Mon - Fri; 7:30 -3:30

Kramer Books and Afterwords Cafe

"Excuse me, but what delicious thing did you order?" I asked the innocent women unwittingly seated next to me at Kramer Books and Afterw0rds Cafe. The plate of beauty had three little mounds of grain: farro, cracked wheat and quinoa, surrouned by slow cooked chicken and slices of deep purple heirloom tomato. I ordered it immediately with the recommended white wine and it was exactly what I needed on a hot and steamy night.
I consider myself pretty well verse in the world of unusual grains, but farro and I only have a casual relationship; whereas quinoa and cracked wheat have been good housemates for for quite sometime. So, I begin dating farro. What do you do with a new potential? Google him of course!

Farro is one of the oldest grains around...it is the ancestor of modern wheat, first cultivated domestically around 11,500 BC in the fertile crescent near Israel. The french saved this traditionally Italian grain from anonymity by introducing it to haut cuisines in hearty vegetable soups. Farro has almost double the protein and fiber of conventional wheat and it is full of complex carbohydrates for long burning energy. I would describe this grain as the Cabernet sauvignon of the grain world, moist and full bodied.

Farro is staging a resurgence in restaurants all over the country. It can be used in almost any recipe calling for barley or spelt (its closest sibling) but the cooking time must be adjusted. Usually, I think of farro as a savory item, but as noted in Cook & Eat, making farrow pudding is an outstanding concept. I like the looks of this epicurious recipe: Farro Salad with Peas, Asparagus and Feta.
I followed my delicious and healthy dinner with a equally tasty, but nutritionally lacking strawberry shortcake (do you think the cookie cancels the antioxidents from the berries!?). This was one of my favorite nights in DC. Thanks DuPont Circle, I'll miss you, I'm back home in Minneapolis on Saturday, and looking forward to some Minnesota sweetcorn!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

From the Internet to the Television


Thank you all for visiting my blog! For my returning visitors, good to have you back and for everyone who is new, Welcome!

I write this blog because I love to eat, and what is more, I love the stories behind my food. I'm passionate about flavor and I want to share that with as many people as possible.

This week, I was interviewed by NBC4, for a piece in the Health Section. Anchor Doreen Gentzler investigated confusing food labels at the grocery store and her cameras peeked into my kitchen for a college student's perspective on buying organic.


I'd love to hear your comments, questions and suggestions about my blog. I want to write about what you want to know about!

Thank you again, and Keep Eating!

Ellie

Java Green for your Greenbacks

If you want your milk from a nut and your meal completely raw, be ready to shell out some serious change. But you'll get a product that is natural as can be. Eating the food at Java Green is like putting pure energy and health straight into your mouth. Java Green Eco Cafe, the vegetarian, organic, and fair trade focused restaurant in Washington DC’s “Golden Triangle” business district is a haven for vegans and vegetarians but has tasty treats for everyone. Except perhaps your wallet. So, before you settle down for a Raw Vanilla Latte at $8 and a $9 dollar Bi-Bim Bob Salad, you better know what you're getting.

First, what is so special about this place? Well initially, it lets you be pretentious about environmental issues by contributing 2% of your final bill to green-friendly charities. But on a less sarcastically scathing note, this little café is focused on the right things: your health, the community’s health and the planet’s health. Not to mention, I've met the owner, and he is just as sincere and good natured as one could possibly hope. He really wants you to be healthy.

Second, if you’re going to dine, understand what you’re eating. What the heck is raw bread? The raw diet consists of totally unprocessed uncooked foods, so a raw bread is sprouted grains densely compacted together. "Bird Food!" DJ, the owner told me. The same concept applies for the frappes on the menu, a regular frappe is made with soymilk which is processed (cooked) and a raw frappe is made with nut milk. DJ explained this concept to me: the nuts (usually almonds) are soaked then ground and strained. Some sweet agave nectar and spices are added to give the protein filled liquid a kick. You can actually get this in the store if you really fall in love with it. It is similar to soy milk but rounder feeling in the mouth.


Lastly, lets get to my meal. I've made friends with one of the chefs, Joe, and he put together a sampling of four raw salads: kimchee, Kale, Cucumber Radish, and Seaweed. I loved the kale, the sweetness of the marinade did not mask the crucifer’s pungent flavor, but rather heightened its intensity. White sesame seeds were a nice earthy accent. The radish salad capitalized on the daikon’s mild flavor. Please don’t bother with the kimchee here. Decent, but not breath taking. And the seaweed, well, its an aquired taste and texture.


Somehow, after I'd filled up on veggies, I managed to eat a cookie the size of my face. Vegan of course. Without the benefit of butter, the cookie was crumbly, but the vegan chocolate was deliciously rich and creamy.

So, Java Green….worth it? Yes! Stop in to try something unusual and appreciate if for what it is (not to mention the enormous health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle). And it really is good all around, fresh fresh fresh and burgeoning with flavor. But don’t make a habit out of it, it really is wicked expensive.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cooking tips I learned, or relearned this weekend.

I decided to do a little baking and settled on Irish Soda bread: quick, easy and toastable. Yet leaving my GW digs in two weeks, I didn’t want to stock up on ingredients. Hampered by circumstance and forced to make due, here is what I learned.

Baking powder can be substituted for baking soda; it takes about three times as much baking powder as baking soda to get the same rising effect.

Buttermilk isn’t a common item at college supermarkets….obviously. So I made my own: 1 tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar into one cup milk and let stand for ten minutes. It isn’t as thick, but gets the job done.

That’s all; sweet and to the point, just like the Soda Bread.


(Info from Cooks Illustrated. If you don't have a subscription, I highly recommend it. Science, Cooking, Eating. What better?)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Richard in the House!!!

Today I must take a moment to digress from food in favor of fitness. Yesterday, I met a guru. He’s loud, he’s most definitely proud, and I’ll be damned if you don’t feel great about yourself after 5 minutes in a room with him.

Ladies and Gentlemen may I present Richard Simmons, with guest appearances by the United States Congress! Today, Simmons testified in front of the House Committee on Education and Labor to champion his life long cause: the battle against obesity and low self esteem.

Immediately after the hearing, Simmons traded the brown pinstripe suit for a red bedazzled tank top and led a “fitness rally” on the steps of the Cannon building. Lawyers, congresspeople and tourists alike raised hands in the air and shook their groove thing to “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Dancing in the Streets.”

And then, dear readers, He kissed me. I may never wash my left temple again! (Tee hee, just joking!)

Let me leave you with a quote from Mr. Simmon’s testimony:

“When you’re feeling great about yourself, when you have self esteem and self respect, there isn’t anything you can’t do!”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Food of the Week: Lentils


On Sunday nights, I like to get in the kitchen and play around a bit. When I do it right, Ill have dinner and a perfect lunch for work. This weekend I bought a bag of green lentils. They looked like small mossy pebbles newly unearthed from the muddy earth.

Basing a weeks worth of meals around the lentil is kind to your pocket book and gift to your body (and it prevents that ill-conceived sandwich of left over hoisin bok choy and hickory turkey made in a rush at 7 am.)

Lentils are one of the oldest cultivated foods; archeologists have found lentil seeds in the Middle East dating back 8000 years. A member of the bean family, lentils are chock full of protein and fiber, about 17 grams of each per cup. The lentil is a complex carbohydrate which provides long lasting energy. Complex carbs are simple carbs chemically bonded together. Our body gets energy when those bonds are broken; because this process is slow, each lentil lunch fills me up and keeps me powered long into the afternoon. Eating lentils is also a great way to show your heart some love. High levels of magnesium and folate found in the legume are essential for good cardiovascular health.

The great beauty of the lentil is its versatility. Personally, I simply emptied the bag in to a pot, covered them with an inch of water (this depends on the type of lentil you choose) added a bouillon cube and let heat do the rest. Then, I doctored them up with red onion, feta and a light vinaigrette, but you can do so many other things too! Check out these easy options.

Salmon with Lentils and Mustard Herb Butter -- Classic French dish, and oh so flavorful
Lentil Salad with Tomato and Dill-- A wonderful excuse to go to the farmer's market midweek!
Curried Lentil and Spinach Soup -- Cold in that air conditioning? Try an easy soup!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Food of the Week: Celery


“Ellie, can you overdose on celery?” The voice on the other end of the phone line asked. “I was reading about hedge funds all afternoon and I realized I’d eaten almost 10 stalks!” Never fear my dear friend; there is more to celery than “ants on the log.”

The stalky veggie first hit the history books as a medicine. The ancient Romans thought it could cure constipation and hangovers. Just to the east, the Egyptians used the shaft to treat masculine deficiencies and the subterranean tuber (known as celeriac or celery root) for feminine disorders. Perhaps King Tut beat Dr. Freud to the pychosexual punch…

Now, nutritional science has shown that our ancestors weren’t wrong to use celery for its medicinal purposes. With nearly 45% of your daily Vitamin K and 15% Vitamin C, this veggie enhances your immune system, eases internal inflammation and even defends against bad cholesterol. Celery is filled with special compounds called pthalides which relax muscles around individual arteries allowing the blood to flow unrestricted thereby lowering blood pressure.

There are many great ways to include celery in your diet. Not discounting peanut butter and raisins, I think we dig up some more creative ideas. Celery and tomato is a natural marriage, think V8 Juice with a celery stirring stick (Vodka’s not a bad addition to this one). Try celery leaves in a salad or add some slices to a tuna sandwich. Don’t forget that celery yield great flavor to any dish so consider tossing in a few pieces in olive oil along with some onion for a soup, stir fry or pasta.

If you really want to get adventurous, try some of these recipes!

Celery Apple Gazpacho

Celery, Avocado and Bell Pepper Salad with Black Olives

Pineapple Celery Punch

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ceiba: A Review

July 28th, 2008: Mother and Daughter Do Dinner Downtown
The experienced diner knows that going to a restaurant is a gamble; will the chef live up to the expectation? Will each dish be as good as the last? Will you want that next bite? An enthusiastic eater on the other hand, sips her Spanish wine and munches on her freshly baked flat bread with seasoned pumpkin seed spread ready to enjoy the meal. I am both, food lover and opinionated eater. But I always give credit where credit is due, and last week chef owner Jeff Tunks blew my socks off at his Latin American Restaurant Ceiba. From start to finish the meal was lovely. Accompanied by my stylish and adventuresome mother, we tasted the heat and passion of Latin America through five self-designed courses.

We opened our meal with a sampling of ceviches each its own unique dish. I favored the Clasico, fresh lime juice, red onion, cilantro and picante pepper—crisp, fresh and pure. The lightness of this course lifted my palate, preparing it for what came next, arguably one of the best dishes I have eaten in the last year.

Tunks' chili relleno, is a masterpiece. The chef stuffs a large poblano pepper with three kinds of cheese and confit rabbit meat, then sets the lightly fried package atop “blistered tomatillo salsa and grilled corn-black bean relish.” Not one flavor is out of place; the dish sings in perfect harmony. The Conchinita Pibil Yucatan Style ran a close second to the relleno. It boasted incredibly succulent pork, sweet pan-fried plantain and a thick corn pupusa to soak up the juice. A red onion slaw played a cooling staccato to the dish’s warm Latin rhythm.

After salivating over the final drop of my relleno, and before I’d tasted the soft pork, the grilled octopus course was a disappointment. Smothered by a black olive aioli, the normally flavorful sea creature lost its essence and became mealy. The dessert too, didn’t live up to its potential— the smoked apricots should have permeated the eggy flan, but they were sadly cast to the side letting the rather run of the mill custard try to lead the dish. These two dishes however, could hardly detract from the evening.

Ceiba will go down in my books, and the chili relleno may even garner a place on my personal “best dishes ever” list. I’d love to make a return trip: the decor is inviting, the service is top notch and the food bursts with flavor. See if you can spot me some night, I’ll be sitting by the window munching on their homemade caramel corn as I wait for my check.

Click here to see the menu

Ceiba
701 14th Street, N.W.,
Washington DC 20005
(202) 393-3983

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Grill from Ipanema: Review

June 28, 2008: Future Leaders of the World Unite to Dine

After a hot day wandering the city through the mall, markets and museums, the cold citrus-y caipirinha tasted divine. Around 8:00, I met my roommate and three of her friends at The Grill from Ipanema, a Brazilian restaurant in Adams Morgan. The caipianha is to Brazil as the mojito is to Mexico. Muddled with lime, sugar and ice, the drink gets its kick from cachaça, a distilled liquor made from local sugar cane. Making the cachaça is not unlike making wine; the best types are aged for many years in oak barrels. In the States, cheap versions are everywhere, so look for quality brands like Leblon, named for a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro or Agua Luca.

From the beginning, it was a great place to start a night. The waiter and I conversed in a mix of Spanish, Portuguese and English as I ordered jacaré au pantal or alligator with mustard, and Frango ao alho or chicken with garlic rice, collard greens and feijão. The dishes arrived after warm bread rolls and political conversation had cultivated new friendships around the table. The alligator, lightly breaded did indeed taste like chicken, but over salted. I discovered that the Feijão was a combination of red beans, yucca flower, the egg, sausage, onion and parsley not unlike a southern gumbo.

The A Bacate Marajó was easily the best; the meat of half an avocado was scooped out and mixed with big shrimp, green chilies and tomatoes then replaced into the empty shell. The ingredients played off each other beautiful, the smooth weight of the avocado tempered by the shrimp and tomato and zinged up with the chili created a round mouth feel but it was light enough that I wanted that second, third and fourth bite. Yum!

The Grill from Impanema is the ideal place to start an evening. The atmosphere is warm, the people friendly and the drinks potent. The night isn’t about the food, which takes a back seat to the environment. Although the flavors on the menu are exotic to the American tongue, the kitchen is missing that extra something that would kick this restaurant to new gastronomic heights. While I think I’ll be trying new options next time I’m in the neighborhood, I will hold fond memories the alligator and of my waiter!
Comer feliz e goza a noite!

The Grill From Ipanema
1858 Columbia Road, N.W
Washington, DC 20009
202-986-0757

Saturday, June 28, 2008

D.C. Markets Part 1


If only all politicians ate great peaches think what we could accomplish….. Last week, I traversed the city in search of every farmers market I could find. I hit my stride on Saturday, my first weekend day in the city. I popped out of bed, threw on some walking shoes and headed toward Eastern Market near Capital Hill, well known for its local produce and artisan bizarre on weekends.

While coffee might be fuel of federal policy making, a good congressperson needs top notch edibles to start their day…may I suggest a sun ripened melon? In the out door stands of Eastern Market, on 7th street and Independence, I walked though piles of peaches, their perfume floating through the heat to my nose like steam rising from the tidal basin after a hard afternoon rain. I had to buy one. The North Carolina peach that juiced all over my chin (and down my shirt) might be the best I’ve ever had. Further along, I cupped a warm tomato in my hands, its skin unblemished and taught. Yep, I bought that too.

I sampled local apple cider, delicious lemon hummus, fire hot cilantro salsa and cucumbers sprinkled with rock salt. And that was just outside. Inside the building there is a great lunch and breakfast spot. Every weekend, the line weaves through the door as patrons wait for scrambled eggs from local hens, or fluffy pancakes with homegrown berries. If you’re in a lunch mood why not try the crab cakes and coleslaw or a big fat meat sandwich? Oh yum!

The seafood, meat and cheese counters are really something to praise. Dozens of inventive sausages, whole fish and aged Goudas line the glass cases. It’s a great place to stock up for the week’s protein.

If you visit, be sure to check out the open air stalls first, the samples abound and whether you planned on buying anything, you’re taste might just overcome your pocket book. My peach only cost me a quarter. Remember to bring cash, venders don’t take credit cards.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Raku Dupont Circle: Review


June 18, 2008: Co-Workers Do Lunch!
Wednesday’s lunch bill was on CSPI, so I abandoned my hummus sandwich and adventured with two co-workers to Raku, a sushi and pan-Asian restaurant in DuPont Circle. They do it right: tapa-style dishes to share at really reasonable prices.

The food was delicious. I could have eaten five plates of the green salad appetizer and called it a day! Tender lettuces were adorned with thinly sliced carrot, red onion and big chunks of crunchy cucumber dressed lightly with miso and ginger. Refreshing on a hot day.

Then the octopus descended. Oh man, oh man! I happened to love this chewy little guy, but the Asian-style BBQ gave each piece a caramelized char—awesome depth of flavor and the zingy mango-thai pepper salsa perfectly cut the slight earthy sweetness of the BBQ.

The Tofu Skewers with Peanut sauce also deserve praise. The outside was grilled and savory, while the interior boasted the lightest, softest tofu. These five big skewers would appeal even to meat lovers. Lastly, the sushi: the Seoul Train Specialty role—Tuna and kimchee was quite creative, I liked the heat it brought into my mouth: the kimchee would spike my palate with a blast of fire and the unctuous tuna would quell the blaze; truly a sensual experience. The nigiri was decent, but there is better fish to be had elsewhere. I would venture back to this joint, I didn’t even dent the array of options, the five or six bento box options would be great for a work-day lunch.

Raku, Dupont Circle
1900 Q St. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: 202.265.7258

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mie N Yu Restaurant and Bar: Review


June 17, 2008: Two Friends Visit a Georgetown Hotspot
Opened in February of 2003, the food, drinks and decor at Mie N Yu attracts youthful power brokers in Prada Suits by the dozen even mid week. I felt like I was floating on a gypsy boat when I walked through the door to the restaurant area. There are two entrances, one for the carved wood bar and another for the veiled sit-down tables.

The decor is outstanding, willowy swaths of fabric shroud the lights and make romantic niches to sip wine and nibble edamame. At Mie N Yu, there is a district feeling that the diner is on a journey: a Moroccan bazaar merges with a stunning English style-bar, while carved dragons crawl across the ceiling into the rich Tibetan lounge. Even the bathrooms are unique. I will say that you could easily become over-aesthetic-ized and utterly exhausted before your food arrived in this place. Its definitely trendy, and you have to be ready for that see-and be seen feeling if you dare to enter the bar.

The menu is extensive, though I allowed my wallet to control the order (never wise) and ended up with a PuPu Platter of fried delicacies, not my favorite. The miniature lamb kebabs, however, were succulent and flavorful. The highlight was easily the Tempura Shrimp and Wasabi Bloody Mary: spiked with top shelf vodka and garnished with a pickled vegetable skewer it finished with a kick and left me wanting another bite. Head chef Tim Elliot is undoubtedly creative and talented. If I visit again, I’ll order the Banana Leaf Grilled Rock Fish with Pei Mussels. At $45, it’s under the heading “proteins to share”.

Overall impression of this joint was fun, hip and stylized. On one final note, the award winning wine list truly deserves its accolades. Oh, and PS: Great service- knowledgeable, attentive and upbeat despite crazy crowds!

Mie N Yu Restaurant and Bar
3125 M Street, NW
Washington DC
(202) 333-6122

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

EW! Bad bad Trans Fats!

Before the summer progresses too far, a bit of background information about my work is warranted. Center for Science in the Public Interest are the guys who got the “Nutrition Facts” on the side of packaged foods, and a few years ago, they lobbied to add the trans-fat category to that list. In the early part of the summer, I’ll be focused on trans-fat and saturated fat content in popular restaurants.





CSPI is has successfully encouraged a few major cities, New York and Philadelphia to eliminate trans-fats from their restaurants. We are now pushing for state-wide bans in Massachusetts, New York and California which could occur this summer. This fat is really bad--raising our “bad” LDL cholesterol, clogging our arteries, and causing upwards of 50,000 fatal heart attacks in the US per year. Nasty.


(Don’t forget not all fat is bad! In fact, we need to have the good types, like Omega-3 and Omega-6 to keep our eyes, brains, hearts and veins in tip-top shape. Best to get your good fat from nuts/seeds (almond, flax), olive oil, fish (think salmon) and avocado.)